The Other Side Of Ad Blocking

Yesterday I posted about how some publishers, in a drive for revenues, have gone way too far with respect to ads.  Their loyalty to their investors has beaten down their loyalty to their users which has precipitated the rise of ad blocking software.  Today I want to look at another side of this except it’s far less fun that simple ad blocking.  This side is criminal.

I have been working off and on with a group of folks trying to get a niche sports site off the ground.  Their traffic has been growing steadily and was fairly impressive for a year-old operation.  We discussed how they were doing their marketing to grow the traffic and how a company I won’t rat out here had been doing a good job in helping them grow.  As I drilled down into their analytics, it became very obvious that a lot of the traffic – close to 90% of it – was coming from machines and not from human users.  The firm they were using was buying traffic from robots.  Lots of it.

It’s not particularly hard to spot something like that if you’re willing to look.  Which is why the latest report from the Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps is so disturbing.  Some of the findings per analysts at SunTrust Robinson Humphreys:

  • Up to 50 percent of publisher traffic is bot activity, just fake clicks from automated computing programs.
  • Bots account for 11 percent of display ad views and 23 percent of video ads.
  • Digital advertising will take in $43.8 billion next year, and $6.3 billion will be based on the fraudulent activity.
  • More than half of traffic from third parties claiming to lift publishers’ traffic numbers comes from bots.

In other words, fraud.  Despite the incredible growth of digital advertising over the last few years, it’s still a nascent industry, once which still has many doubters in the marketing community. The reports aren’t helping but let’s not shoot the messenger. Publishers can take countermeasures – how many of them do? I spent 10 minutes and not only identified fake traffic but could pinpoint the sources and recommend installing filters to block it.  I suspect that no publisher wants to blow up a significant part of their traffic – my client certainly didn’t want to.  But ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away and will lead to much bigger problems down the road.  I don’t think it’s a road we want to travel. Do you?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

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